Are you ready for an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henriad Tetralogy as you’ve never seen before? Then I would highly recommend you watch the 2019 epic historical war drama The King. Directed by David Michôd with performances by Timothée Chalamet as Hal (King Henry V), Joel Edgerton as John Falstaff, Robert Pattinson as the French Dauphin (prince and heir to the throne), and Lilly-Rose Depp as the French Princess (Catherine). The film is loosely based on Shakespeare’s original plays, where the beginnings of King Henry V is narrated via an action-packed plot as his father — the tyrannical King Henry IV — rules over England with paranoia amid England’s entanglement in the 100 Years’ War — a grapple betwixt England and France amid the 14th and 15th century “over a series of disputes… [predominantly] the legitimate succession to the French crown” (“Hundred Years’ War”). Yet Hal, the eldest son, refuses to be involved in any matters involving the English monarchy and lives a rebellious lifestyle alongside his bosom friend John Falstaff. Hal is ultimately thrust back into palace life as he faces numerous obstacles. The King was a compelling film in which Hal slowly develops into a wise king and realizes the deceptions surrounding him when Princess Catherine brings to light the truth of the situation at hand.
Overall this movie was aesthetically appealing thanks to the setting, background music, and language. The vast majority of the filming was in England and Hungary; specifically at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, England, and the Lincoln Cathedral for the palace scenes. The battles were filmed in Hungary, along with the use of Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) and other special effects in order to create realistic and authentic panoramas. From the battlefield to the luxurious castle, to Hal’s humble abode, the scenery was breathtaking and incredibly true-to-life. What really complemented the picturesque scenery was the background music coming in like waves, pushing the storyline forward as the clanking of armor echoed boisterously, the clashing of swords complementing the instruments. The music never overpowered the lovely language spoken by the cast.
Shakespeare was known for his refined use of the Early Modern English language, which one expects to read in a traditional English course. However, the dialogue was modernized to fit the 21st century’s tastes while still sounding pleasant to the ear. To paraphrase Nate Jones and his review of the dialogue from The King: The language is a combination of succinct staccato sentences, thundering pronouncements, a small handful of archaic expressions, and repeated cursing (vulture.com). Something Jones refers to as “The Game of Thrones language.” I personally thought the language suited the corresponding scenes, such that when Hal was conversing with Falstaff, his voice was hushed — almost a whisper. But when it came time to prepare for battle, Hal’s voice bellowed out in order for his troops to hear him clearly; his confidence was unmistakable. Yet another aspect which I thought made the film a pleasure to watch were the four central characters: Hal, Falstaff, the Dauphin, and Princess Catherine.
Hal is a relatable character, fitting into the role of the prodigal son. He did everything in his power to shun the crown as he spent his days in bed, his nights out drinking, and gradually wasting away. It wasn’t until he was forced into the position of authority when he became more responsible for his actions. This in comparison to the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) where the younger son asks for his inheritance early as he leaves his father’s house and lives a life filled with debauchery and sin. Once the money was spent and the younger son was poverty-stricken, he decided to return home to beg his father to work as a servant in order to have food and a place to live. Amazingly enough, the father sees his son heading home from a great distance, runs to him, gives his son his cloak and prepares a grand feast to celebrate his return. However, my analysis of Hal as the prodigal son has some differences and similarities.
First, Hal is the eldest wayward son of Henry IV, Thomas is the younger dependable son. Although Hal is the eldest son, he is said not to inherit the English crown because he neglected the responsibilities of a prince. Second, Hal never asked for an inheritance, but rather wants nothing to do with his father’s monarchy. Although it’s never described how Hal manages to survive without evidence of currency, he manages to live an isolated life. Conversely, there are similarities, such as: Hal’s habit of drinking and spending time with promiscuous women, clowning around with Falstaff, and Hal’s redemption when he’s crowned King Henry V as he makes wise decisions — meditating on his actions.
After King Henry V’s coronation, Hal wanted to remain disconnected from the war, but is relentlessly pressed by medieval propaganda. Chalamet does an excellent job playing the role of Hal as he undergoes a dynamic change. He even bares the same scar on his left check as the real Henry V had. Chalamet’s demeanor is calm, quiet, solemn at times, wise, calculating, observant, and hyper-aware of the unyielding calls to war; he clearly understood his character well. He even managed to appear sincere when Hal aspires to protect the lives of both English and French soldiers. Alongside Hal each step of the way was his close friend John Falstaff.
John Falstaff is a loveable character, both within the Henriad and The King. A loyal, honest (usually blunt), and sensible war hero who is transparent in action as well as temperament. At first Falstaff needs Hal’s assistance, but towards the end he’s the one who provides the assistance for England’s strategy on the muddy French battlefield. Falstaff is among one of the few people Hal trusts. Their friendship is endearing and a relationship we all wish to have in our lives, one of trust, kindness, and benevolence. Falstaff was more of a father to Hal than his own biological father. It was really touching to see their relationship mature during the span of the film. Many often looked down on Falstaff, but Hal always held him in high regards. Edgerton did an excellent job portraying the beloved John Falstaff. Juxtaposed to my fondness of Falstaff was my abhorrence towards the Dauphin of France.
Robert Pattinson as the French Dauphin was thoroughly entertaining as well as cringe-worthy. There’s just something so refreshingly amusing to see Pattinson — the once famous prince of the night, Edward Cullen in the Twilight saga — now playing the role of a ruthless and spoiled French prince who riles Hal (and the audience) as the perfect bad guy. Pattinson’s charming silvery-toned French accent along with his words — always a double-edged sword, managing to injure Hal’s pride and showcase the Dauphin’s own insecurities — were among my favorite qualities of this character. The Dauphin was loathsome and cruel. Yet I hung off of his every word, always finding the double-meanings and subtle insults. Nevertheless with every villain is the gallant hero, or in this instance a heroine.
Princess Catherine is a breath of fresh air. She’s smart, sassy, a feminist in every right, and she questions Hal’s reason for going to war, which angers him, still he listens to her and ponders his decisions and their outcomes. Catherine unapologetically told Hal he was too willing to fight, to shed blood, to be beguiled, and she was unimpressed with his actions. Although her part was minor, Princess Catherine had a significant role. She was (in essence) the logic brought in at the film’s culmination; for this reason, she was my favorite character. Depp did an excellent job portraying the elegant and intellectual Princess Catherine.
Overall, The King was a refreshing adaptation of Shakespeare’s original Henriad Tetralogy. While deviating from the original plot and characters, there was still a sense of historical fiction intermixed into an action-packed film filled with lies, deceit, and the wisdom of a woman who brought justice to England and France. I believe David Michôd’s version of Henry V was relatable, Falstaff was good-natured, the Dauphin was an entertaining antagonist, and Princess Catherine was a woman ahead of her time. The King is rated R, and thus not recommended for a younger viewing audience. Above all else, what was most fascinatingly relevant was the rebellious nature of Hal as he fits the role of the prodigal son who slowly matures into a righteous king who cares for not only his people, but also his enemies’ lives. We could all learn a lesson from Hal, to show mercy, and yet not allow injustice and paranoia to overtake our lives. For this reason, Netflix’s The King is an exceptional film that should be considered for future viewing purposes.
“Henry V.” Edited by Roma Gill, Internet Archive, Oxford University Press, 1 January 1970, http://www.archive.org/details/henryv000shak/page/90/mode/2up/search/saint crispen. Accessed 5 May 2020.
“Hundred Years’ War.” britannica.com, https://www.britannica.com/event/Hundred-Years-War.
Jones, Nate. “How The King Rewrites Shakespeare’s Most Famous Dialogue.” vulture.com, https://www.vulture.com/2019/11/how-netflixs-the-king-re-writes-shakespeares-dialogue.html.
The King. Directed by David Michôd, performances by Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson, and Lilly-Rose Depp, Netflix, 2019.
Kristina Chavez is a graduate student at La Sierra University, earning her Master of Arts in English. Her hobbies include reading, writing, drawing, Netflix, and running with her German Shepherd Bella.
Image courtesy of Netflix.com
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.